The Promise and Peril of Precision Medicine: Phenotyping Still Matters Most

Jaeger P. Ackerman, Daniel C. Bartos, Jamie D. Kapplinger, David J. Tester, Brian P. Delisle, Michael J. Ackerman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


We illustrate the work necessary to reverse course after identification of a KCNQ1 variant interpreted erroneously as causing long QT syndrome (LQTS) and to identify the true cause of a case of sudden death in the young. Surrogate genetic testing of a decedent's living brother identified a rare KCNQ1-V133I variant, which prompted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator and subsequent diagnosis of LQTS in other family members. Subsequently, this presumed LQT1 family came to our institution for further clinical evaluation and research-based investigations, including KCNQ1-V133I variant–specific analysis of the decedent, heterologous expression studies of KCNQ1-V133I, and a whole-exome molecular autopsy along with genomic triangulation using his unaffected parents’ DNA. After evaluating several V133I-positive family members, clinical doubt was cast on the veracity of the previously levied diagnosis of LQT1, resulting in a re-opening of the case and an intense pursuit of the lethal substrate. Furthermore, the decedent tested negative for V133I, and heterologous expression studies demonstrated a normal cellular phenotype for V133I-containing Kv7.1 channels. Instead, after whole-exome molecular autopsy, a de novo pathogenic variant (p.R454W) in DES-encoded desmin was identified. As detailed herein, the forensic evaluation of sudden death in the young requires meticulous focus on the decedent followed by a careful and deliberate assessment of the decedent's relatives. Surrogate genetic testing can have disastrous consequences and should be avoided. Genetic test results require careful scrutiny to avoid unintended and potentially devastating repercussions. Although the root cause of the decedent's tragic death would have remained a mystery, the unintended consequences for the living relatives described herein might have been avoided based on clinical grounds alone. All family members had electrocardiograms with normal QT intervals, making the diagnosis of familial LQTS unlikely. As such, if the clinicians caring for these patients had focused solely on clinical data from the survivors, there might have been no reason to embark on a path of inappropriate treatment based on genetic testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1606-1616
Number of pages11
JournalMayo Clinic Proceedings
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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